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Title: Abraham Lincoln Once Owned A Weekly Newspaper
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Taken from The Review-Republican - Feb. 6, 1941

Inasmuch as his biographers have pictured Abraham Lincoln at different times as a merchant, laborer, river man, surveyor, politician, and lawyer, it is not hard to imagine him as a good natured country newspaperman, walking the streets of Springfield, Illinois, with a batch of copy paper in his hand and a stub of pencil behind one ear.

As a matter of fact Lincoln was never actually a newspaper editor, but for a period of eighteen months from May 30, 1859 to December 6, 1860, he was the owner of a weekly German newspaper, The StaatsAnzeiger, in Springfield. Few persons of Lincoln's day knew of the enterprise and hardly anyone today ever pictured him in the role of newpaper proprietor. His purchase of the weekly came about in this manner:

Saw An Opportunity
In 1859 when the Lincoln presidential campaign was getting underway there was some doubt as to which were some 30,000 Germans in the state and while they leaned toward the Republican party, the most influential German language newspaper in the state, The StaatsZeitung of Chicago, was for Seward.

Lincoln saw an opportunity to do something about this situation when he learned that his friend, Dr. Theodore Canisius, scholarly German editor of the Staats-Anzweiger,was having financial difficulties with his paper. Canisius had been advanced money by his landlord, John Burkhardt, and when he was unable to repay the loan, Burkhardt took over the paper. At this point, Abraham Lincoln came into the picture by purchasing Mr. Burkhardt's claim. The amount of money involved was $400.

The purchase made Lincoln the actual owner and publisher of the Staats-Anzweiger, but the transaction was secret so that Canisius continued to walk the streets of Springfield as the owner and editor. If it were not for the fact taht there is in existence today a contract between the two men, written on both sides of a sheet of legal cap, and Lincoln's own handwriting, there would probably be no proof that the great Civil War President had owned a weekly newspaper. This contract, dated May 30, 1859, is so unique that it bears quoting. As published in a volume two of Emanuel Hertz's Abraham Lincoln, a New Portrait, the document reads:

Text of Document
"This instrument witnesseth that the printing press, German types, etc. purchased of John Burkhardt, belonging to Abraham Lincoln; that Theodore Canisius is to have immediate possession of them and is to commence publishing in Springfield, Illinois, a Republican newspaper, to be chiefly in the German language, with occasional translations into English at his option; the first number to issue in the ensuing month of June, and to continue thenceforward issuing weekly or oftener, at the option of said Canisius, he, said Canisius, bearing all expenses, and charges, and taking all incomes and profits; said paper, in political sentiment, not to depart from the Philadelphia and Illinois Republican platforms; and for a material departure in that respect, or a failure of said paper to issue as often as weekly or any attempt to remove said press, types, etc. from Springfield without the consent of said Lincoln."

At the bottom of his copy of the contract Lincoln wrote in pencil, "May 30, 1859. Jacob Dunn bought the press, types, etc. of John Burkhardt for me, and with my money."

It is readily seen from the contract that the only important point Lincoln made was that the editor of the Staats-Anzweiger was to issue a Republican paper. The contract did not say that the paper was to support its owner particularly, but the Republican party in general.

Major Force in Campaign
As a matter of fact, Lincoln's papter, supplemented by the work of such influential Germans as Carl Schurz and Gustave Koerner, was a major force in the campaign of 1860. It seems that Lincoln had at least two purposes in mind in buying the German paper: he wanted to appeal to the German voters of Illinois through a paper under Republican control, and he wanted to prevent the paper from falling under the influence of the Democrats. Both purposes indicate that the Republican candidate had a high regard for the influence of the press.

Since there are no files of the Staats-Anzweiger known to be in existence, it would be unwise to just say what the editorial policy of the paper was after Lincoln became the owner, but the editor must have lived up to his agreement because a month after Lincoln's election the paper turned back to Canisius. On the back of the contract Cansius had faithfully the obligations of the contract and satisfied all financial claims of Lincoln and that therefore for a valid consideration he conveyed the type, paper, and good will to Canisius. The act of turning paper back to Canisius must have been one of the last acts of the President-elect as he cleaned his desk before leaving Springfield for the White House.

It is known also from letters that are in existence that Lincoln was active in promoting the circulation of his paper.

Date: 2/1/1989
Origin: Good Ol' Days
Record ID: 00000155
Type: Book
Source Archive: Williamsport-Washington Township Public Library
Date Entered: 8/10/2001
Entered By: Amber M Knipe

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